On what grounds

Stimulating coffee lectures in Seattle focus on sustainability

Ever wonder exactly what goes into your morning coffee (aside from milk and sugar, of course)? A series of lectures this spring at the University of Washington attempts to answer just that question. The UW is serving up its public-speaker series Coffee: From the Grounds Up as a complement to the cultural exhibit Coffee: The World in Your Cup at the university’s Burke Museum. So far, the series has covered topics like the history of coffee and the issue of fair trade, but the final three events on offer — occurring over the next three Tuesdays — will focus on …

Poop + Marketing = Biosolids

Sludge, farmer’s friend or toxic slime?

Should what we put down our sewers ultimately wind up back on our plates?Marc Samsom via Flickr Urine, feces, menstrual blood, hair, fingernails, vomit, dead skin cells. Industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, soaps, shampoos, solvents, pesticides, household cleansers, hospital waste. Sewage sludge, the viscous brown gunk left over when wastewater is treated, is more than just poop: it’s an odiferous smoothie of everything we pour down the drain. There are pathogens; there are heavy metals. PCBs, dioxins, DDT, asbestos, polio, parasitic worms, radioactive material — all have been found in sludge. Despite pretreatment programs that prevent some of the most noxious stuff …

The Sludge Report

Regulating biosolids

Biosolids are regulated under what’s known colloquially (to those who speak colloquially about sewage) as the 503 Sludge Rule, which came into effect in 1993. Technically titled “40 CFR 503 — Standards for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludge,” it’s complicated enough that EPA came out with a “Plain English” guide to help make sense of the rule’s requirements and details. It’s not light reading, so here are the basics: The most recent version of the 503 rule regulates seven heavy metals in sludge. It also divides biosolids into two categories for land application, Class A and Class B, …

Dysfunctional foods

Ethanol waste: it’s what’s for … breakfast?

It’s food, no fuel, no food…For the ethanol industry, much depends on distillers grains, the stuff that’s left over after corn has been fermeneted and distilled to make alcohol. Corn ethanol’s energy balance (net energy produced minus energy consumed in production) is razor thin; it only goes positive when you factor in generous credits for distillers grains. Then there’s the harsh economic reality: With corn prices stubbornly high and ethanol prices stubbornly low, not even $5 billion or so a year in government support can keep the industry from bleeding red ink. The industry has been scraping by on revenue …

Ripe for change

Another win for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Photo: Scott RobertsonOver the past week, much attention has been focused on the “B” part of that classic U.S. sandwich, the BLT. The swine flu outbreak has quite rightly raised questions about the environemtal/public health implications of modern industrial hog production. Almost lost amid the furor was much happier news about the “T” part of the delectable lunch item. In Florida, source of 90 percent of winter tomatoes consumed in the United States, farmworkers have for decades faced outright exploitative conditions: miserly and stagnant wages, lack of healthcare, and living conditions that wouldn’t have been out of place in Apartheid …

Pot calling the kettle green

Smithfield brings home McDonald’s corporate responsibility prize

Larry Pope“Oh, my goodness. I think I’m extremely proud of — of how we are from a corporate social responsibility standpoint.  And, in fact, McDonald’s just gave us their first award as the most — for their corporate social responsibility. The fist time they’ve given that, they gave it to us.” –Larry Pope, CEO of Smithfield, in a Friday interview on CNBC (video available here)

Yes, it's the CAFOs

Now is not the time for timidity

I agree with the calls for some amount of caution in the search for a smoking gun in the swine flu pandemic. There’s always the danger of over-reaching and turning your target into an object of sympathy. But really, the science IS behind us on this one. The head virologist of the CDC has indeed identified the core strain of this outbreak as one that arose in a North Carolina CAFO.  Meanwhile, another voice, this time Johann Hari of the London Independent (via HuffPo) convincingly touts the idea that our desire for cheap meat is a cause of the current …

Premature Pontification

Jumping to conclusions in health matters may have adverse side effects

The past week, the Netiverse has erupted with stories linking the Granjas Carroll confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) near La Gloria, Vera Cruz, Mexico, with the outbreak of a strain of H1N1 influenza, commonly called “swine flu,” that has triggered concerns about possible flu pandemic reminiscent of the one that claimed tens of millions of lives between 1918 and 1920. Outlets such as Grist, Huffington Post, and Daily Kos have contributed to the eruption, as have some members of the old-line print and broadcast media, but I find much of the reportage at this point troubling. Why? Because I don’t …

Home groan

CDC: swine flu strain has genetic roots in U.S.A.

(Another hat tip to the increasingly essential Tom Laskawy.) In an interview with Science Magazine,  CDC chief virologist Ruben Donis essentially confirmed the reading of the current swine flu strain made by New Scientist: that it evolved from a strain that cropped up in U.S. hog farms in 1998. Both New Scientist and Donis emphasize that what we’re talking about is a swine flu — in direct contradiction of the pork industry’s party line. In an interview with me today, David Warner, director of communications at the National Pork Producers Council, repeatedly attributed the outbreak to “human flu, not swine …

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